Bible Review 18:2, April 2002

What Gets Lost in Translation

Never forget that every translation is an interpretation.

By Ben Witherington III

Bible Review

It’s easy to forget when reading the Bible in English that you’re not dealing with the Holy Scriptures as they were originally written. As you get comfortable with a particular translation, you begin to treat it as more than a translation. You see it as the original inspired text. But this overlooks two important facts: First, things get lost in translation, and, second, every translation is an interpretation of the original Greek or Hebrew text.

As anyone who has studied a foreign language knows, there are often words in the original, “sender” language that do not translate easily into the “receiver” language. Some foreign words have no English equivalent at all. And certain idiomatic phrases make no sense whatsoever when translated literally. For instance, if I translate the English idiomatic phrase “He has an ax to grind” into German, my Berlin friends might wonder if I am talking about a lumberjack!

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